Running is an excellent form of exercise with numerous health benefits. Not only that but it is highly accessible, with a pair of running shoes and some appropriate clothing being all you need to get started.

If like me however, you live in a region where the weather or your busy schedule often does not comply, then it is not always possible to go for a long outdoor run. This is where the treadmill offers a great alternative.

In this article, we highlight the pros and cons of treadmill running, as well as how to set up correctly, run properly, and why this even matters.

Indoor vs Outdoor Running

There are subtle differences between indoor treadmill running and outdoor running, from the way we plant our feet to the muscle groups used and the volume of energy expended.

We know from longstanding research[1] that runners using a treadmill demonstrate a tendency to make initial ground contact with a forefoot approach versus that of heel strike in outdoor runners. The significance of this variation is that it changes the volume and direction in which forces travel through the feet and up the long bones.

Running Kinematics:

Heel strike (Outdoor):

Forefoot (Indoor):

  • Toes point upwards with dorsiflexed ankle, initially sparing arch of foot
  • Toes point downwards with slightly plantarflexed ankle
  • Initial ground contact made slightly towards the outside of the heel
  • Initial ground contact made on the forefoot (ball of the foot, just before the toes)
  • Forefoot comes down as the ankle plantar-flexes (moves from toes up to toes down)
  • Ankle begins to dorsiflex (move towards the ground)
  • At this stage 1.5-3x bodyweight is absorbed by the foot within 50 milliseconds
  • Calf and Achilles are stretched and loaded simultaneously as heel makes ground contact
  • Tissues in the arch begin to stretch/ flatten once foot is entirely flat on ground
  • Arch of foot is loaded/ flattens out
  • Foot begins to pronate (tilt inwards, moving pressure on to arch)
  • Little to no impact through the foot in the first 50 milliseconds
  • Push off from toe propels forwards momentum + heel leaves the ground.
  • Pronation occurs in reverse direction to heel strike

In essence, the comparison above shows that we purposefully change our running style in order to decrease the load on our feet when using a treadmill. This combined with the steady and predictable motion, means that we expend less energy and use less muscle groups than running outdoors.

On top of this, our toes need to grip the ground more outdoors whereas the belt of the treadmill helps us in doing this.

So does that mean treadmill running is bad for us? No not at all, in fact quite the opposite.

Health Constitution_Treadmill Workouts to Burn More Calories

Advantages of Using a Treadmill

When we combine treadmill running with outdoor running, it offers a great solution to keep our cardiovascular and aerobic fitness ticking over whilst offering some relative rest for the soft tissue and bones that are loaded so heavily running outdoors.

As always, this is all about striking the right balance.

Another advantage of treadmill running is that it allows us complete control over every aspect of our workout. The intensity of the workout can be tailored to best suit the fitness of the individual.

The steady controlled environment of the treadmill means that the individual can control the warm up, cool down, speed, incline and energy expended at each stage of the run. We do not have this same control over the elements when outdoors. This makes it an excellent fitness or rehabilitation tool, and a great starting place for complete beginners!

Additionally, many treadmills are highly programmable allowing you to pre-plan every minute of the run, from the speed to time and distance.

This combined with compatible fitness trackers and heart rate monitors, allows us to gather some serious data on how hard we are pushing the body and how your fitness levels are progressing every time you step on to the treadmill.

Correct Form for Injury Prevention

I hope that by now you can see running on a treadmill is quite different to running outdoors. From the way that we adjust our running technique to the way that we load our bones, joints and soft tissues. This means that we need to be aware of our form in order to reduce the risk of injury.

Here are some helpful tips:

#1: Maintain a tall, relaxed posture with only very slight forwards lean.

This is an interesting one. Historically we’ve always been told to maintain a forwards lean whilst we run. However, recent research has infact shown that an increased trunk flexion (forward lean) contributes to a lesser stride length and higher stride frequency (cadence). This in turn increases ground reaction forces and the likelihood of experiencing knee pain, back pain and bone stress syndromes.[2]

#2: Focus on smooth, controlled foot strike.

As we have already discussed, landing with a slightly more mid/ forefoot posture reduces load and keeps unnecessary stress off your knees, back and long bones.

Try also to maintain a slightly neutral/ neutral pronation posture of the foot on landing. This means letting the foot roll slightly on to your instep, allowing your big toe and intrinsic muscles to absorb shock and propel you forwards more efficiently.

#3: Arm Swing

The arms provide a very important counterbalance to the motion of the lower limbs during forwards momentum. Try to maintain a linear direction at all times, instead of letting them come across your body. This frequently happens as we fatigue.

When the arms come across the body we begin to produce a torque effect, this is inefficient and puts unnecessary load across your back, the effect is greater the further the arms swing across the body.

Keep the arms relaxed with a 90-degree bend at the elbows, driving forwards from the shoulders. The only exception for this is when you are sprinting, in which case you might have a more rigid arm in order to generate more forwards momentum.

#4: Maintain a consistent joint alignment

We are all uniquely different, some with different ways of moving than others. It is therefore not appropriate to try to force one way of moving on everybody.

The key is to remain consistent and symmetrical on either side. This helps to ensure that you do not end up with imbalances that may lead to joint or soft tissue pain down the line.

How to Set Up a Treadmill

So you have made it this far, well done! If you are considering buying a treadmill for home use then read on for the essential information to keep safe whilst you run! If you are only planning to use a gym based treadmill then feel free to skip ahead.

Most treadmills come with a deck support system and a frame, some fold, some do not. The first thing is to ensure your deck is laid out on a secure, flat, stable surface. If you have a folding deck then ensure you hear the audible ‘click’ as you lay it out.

Once your device is powered up and ready for use, ensure that you have located and tested the safety cord/ button. You should always clip the cord on to your clothing to ensure that the machine comes to a stop should you suddenly stop running for any reason.

Next, familiarise yourself with the various functions of your treadmill. In the majority of cases you will likely have up and down arrows for controlling speed and incline. These should be on the screen in front of you. Some treadmills also have them on the arms of the frame for easy access whilst walking.

After that, you’re good to go. Now all you need is a solid work out plan and a can do attitude!

Health Constitution_Add Variation to a Beginner Treadmill Workout

Basic workouts to get you started

My three go to workouts for a quick and effective calorie burn:

#1: Sprint Intervals

Warm up for 5-10 minutes with a steady walk/ jog, gradually increasing the pace as you go.

Sprint 30 seconds with a 7-8/10 effort, followed by a 90 second rest. Repeat 10 repetitions.

Follow up with a 5 minute steady cool down at walking pace.

This exercise should take no more than 20 minutes.

#2: Aerobic/ fitness

Again, start with a 5-10 minute warm up to ease in to the exercise and get your body used to the feeling of running.

Find a pace that works for you and keeps you working at a 6-7/10 effort level. This should leave you feeling slightly out of breath but still able to hold a comfortable conversation.

Maintain the pace and effort for 20-30 minutes as able. Follow up with a cool down and stretch before finishing.

#3: Pyramid Work Out

This one is intense and probably best left for the experienced runners or once you have developed a higher level of confidence and fitness.

As always, start with a steady warm up of 5-10 minutes, increasing the speed as you go.

Do 5 rounds of 6/10 effort, increasing the duration of each round by 1 minute.

Change up the speed so you are now giving an 8/10 effort and work down from 5 minutes to 1 minute, taking away a minute each round.

Finish up with your standard cool down and stretches. This should take 30 minutes at most and is a real calorie burner!

If you are a complete beginner with no idea where to begin then I would advise that you check out our recent article with 5 essential tips for getting started.

Recommended treadmills

For an all-round guide on the best and most suitable treadmills on the market, check out our best treadmills guide with all the latest offers!

References

[1] Nigg, B. M., De Boer, R. W., & Fisher, V. (1995). A kinematic comparison of overground and treadmill running. Medicine and science in sports and exercise27(1), 98–105.

[2] Anna Warrener, Robert Tamai, Daniel E. Lieberman. The effect of trunk flexion angle on lower limb mechanics during running. Human Movement Science, 2021; 78: 102817